Pursuing higher education has skyrocketed compared to living costs in recent years. It is much less affordable for students today to attend college than it was for past generations. It’s almost impossible for a student to graduate from a four-year program debt-free. Still, even though your child will likely take out one or more student loans, proper planning is helpful when mitigating these costs, whether it’s understanding how much you should offer or helping them manage a budget.
Understanding How Much Families Contribute
Every set of parents prepares for college costs differently. Some families can pay the entire bill, allowing children to graduate without debt. But this is becoming increasingly rarer. The child is often 100 percent responsible, whether it’s because the parents are unable to pay or because they want their child to become more responsible. However, some families split the costs, where the student contributes by taking out loans and working, and the parents contribute what they can. No matter how you go about it, you may spend a few thousand dollars per semester.
If you have started looking into student loans to help your child make up the difference, you may have noticed it is easier for young adults to get approved with little credit of their own. You might have discovered that most require a cosigner, especially private ones. Being a private student loan cosigner is one way you can help your child go to college, even if you don’t have a lot of savings.
Look to Federal Student Loans
You and your child can fill out the FAFSA together to determine how much they can get in subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans. Even if you think you will only qualify for scholarships or grants, you might be surprised at what pops up, and your child can only get federal loans if you fill out the document. Getting as much financial aid as possible is worth going through the process.
Create a Budget
Too many college students leave home without knowing how to budget and either learn as they go or don’t manage their money well. Especially as consumers adjust to inflation, it’s good for your child to understand how to manage their money before they go to school. Take some time to help them learn what a budget is and how it can give them more financial freedom, not less.
Budgeting skills will be even more important after college, when planning expenses like rent, car payments, or a mortgage. It also helps them plan for expenses that might change from month to month, like food. Help your student see how having a budget can keep them on track so they spend their money wisely.
Take some time to help them learn how to categorize expenses as necessary or discretionary. Transportation and textbooks are necessary expenses, while extra clothing and shopping trips are discretionary. If they have a want, you can help them work that into their budget, allowing them to save up for it over time instead of blowing their entire budget on that item.
Offer an Allowance
It is often hard for young adults to understand the importance of budgeting if they don’t have money to spend. Consider giving your child an allowance, even before they go to college. This can help them manage their income and get into the habit of saving. They may find it helpful to receive smaller, more consistent amounts of money regularly rather than a larger amount now and then. Regular amounts will help them learn how to manage cash flow. Giving them enough to cover costs like food and textbooks while in college means they won’t have to borrow as much.
Encourage Them to Work While in School
There is a difference between budgeting money one is given and budgeting money one has earned from their own work. People tend to be more careful with their money, so if your child has time, encourage them to get a part-time job. This can give them an idea of what it means to have a steady income with taxes taken out. Of course, it is important for your child not to work so much that they do not have time for their classes. Many students find about 20 hours per week or less helps them strike a healthy balance.
Many college campuses have work-study programs so students can find flexible jobs that work around their class schedules. After you and your child fill out the FAFSA together, you will determine whether you are eligible for the program. The amount your child can expect to earn through a work-study position can vary, but many pay at or around the federal minimum wage.